Bedford’s Nicole Rightnowar returns a serve against Adrian. Rightnowar has 486 kills and 175 blocks.
THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH
Bedford coach Jodi Manore has been around the game long enough to know what a champion looks like.
The Mules have won a few state championships during Manore’s 29-year stint and have been in eight state championship matches since 1991 season.
Bedford (63-9-2), the Southeastern Conference Red Division champion, is marching its way through the tournament again. The Mules defeated Riverview 25-19, 25-21, 25-10 on Tuesday in the Class A regional semifinal. The Mules will meet Allen Park today in a regional final.
“I think we were better defensively last year, that’s why I’m waiting for us to click on that,” Manore said. “Offensively, I think we’re a little better than we were last year.”
Only Macomb Dakota proved to be better last year, dealing Bedford a 25-22, 25-21, 26-24 defeat in the state final.
This season, the Mules return plenty of key performers and appear on track to make another deep run in the playoffs.
“We just need to play our game,” Manore said. “Things will get tougher.”
With junior outside-hitter Kayla Gwozdz and middle-hitter Nicole Rightnowar representing two of the top returners, Bedford is among the most experienced teams still in contention.
Gwozdz leads the team with 635 kills and a .360 hitting percentage, while Rightnowar has been a force in the middle of the attack, registering 486 kills, 175 blocks, and a .310 hitting percentage.
They are two big reasons Bedford is a contender for a state championship.
“They are our two best hitters,” Manore said. “They’re all-around players that can play in the back row for us.”
Yet the Mules’ dynamic duo has had plenty of support.
Seniors Taylor Purcell, a middle hitter, MacKenzie Andrews, a setter, and Maddie Andres, a libero, have been steady contributors.
Junior Chloe Lamb and sophomore Isabelle Marciniak have also been a big part of the success.
Andres leads Bedford with 807 digs, while Marciniak has been a sophomore who has made the most of her opportunity, registering 378 kills.
“We have five hitters we can go to, so we don’t have to rely on one player,” Manore said.
The Mules are a team still working to improve with each match, particularly on defense.
Manore said the loss of defensive specialist Ellen Hays to graduation left a defensive void they’re still working to fill. Hays, who is playing at the University of Toledo, was the team’s defensive leader and spark plug.
The Mules last won a state championship in 2005, topping Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern. It was their second state title in five seasons (2001).
Prior to 2000, Michigan divided the state volleyball competition into a Lower Peninsula championship and an Upper Peninsula championship. Bedford won the Lower Peninsula championship in 1998, while finishing as Lower Peninsula state runner-up four times (1991, 1992, 1996, 1999).